En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
2 ratings

Sunday - December 16, 2007

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs
Title: Curb appeal for sale of house
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Help! We're selling our house soon and need to redo our flowerbeds in the front of the house (facing north, gets partial sunlight throughout the day) in the coming weeks but don't have a clue where to begin. We're beginners with a whole lotta heart but not much of a green thumb. We want to clean up the existing brush and make it look tidy for curb appeal. Should we bother with planting flowers or will they just die off in the December chill? Are there more heartier plants that would survive like agaves, cactus? Mulch? Xeriscape with rocks? Thanks!!


We understand your need to spruce things up for a winter sale. There's good news and bad news. The bad news first: the plant nurseries are not exactly stuffed with large blooming plants ready for transplanting. The good news is, you don't necessarily have to have flowers to make an attractive show in your garden.

You already have two good ideas in your question: cleanup and mulch. Certainly, begin with the cleanup. If you have a lawn, mow and edge it; here in the Austin area it's probably still green. Pull up any weeds and get them off your property, pick up trash caught in the area, etc. If you have trees or shrubs already, trim any deadwood off, and tidy up the shapes.

Next, you sound as though you need some new planting to jazz up your flowerbed. Let's start with some mid-size native shrubs. You are probably not going to find anything as large and filled-out as the pictures, but some of these could have blooms, and all are evergreen. Pick out plants that are a nice height but not spindly, and plants that have as much foliage as possible. Even if you have no flowers, you will find shrubs with blue-green leaves, leaves with different textures and shapes, and branches that have different shapes. Measure your flowerbed before you go to the nursery, determine how far apart the shrubs need to be planted, and from that you should be able to figure out how many plants you need to buy. We're certainly not suggesting that you buy only these plants, or one of each, or all the same plant. This is just an example of ways to get some height that will show from the street, with contrasts in leaf color and texture, even in the dead of winter.

Cordia boissieri (anacahuita) - a sometime 12-month bloomer

Garrya ovata (eggleaf silktassel)

Salvia greggii (autumn sage)

Scutellaria wrightii (Wright's skullcap)

Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush)

The biggest problem you are going to have is locating these plants this time of year. Please refer to our list of Native Plant Suppliers for Texas. You are fortunate to live in the Austin area, because there is a lot of interest in natives, and a number of suppliers. This link will give you 60 suppliers in Texas, and about 10 in the Austin area. Each has a phone number where they can be reached and inquiries made about the availability of plants you are looking for, and they will probably have other appropriate suggestions.

Some of your other ideas, although they would be lovely for long-term landscaping, don't fit your need for haste. Agaves, cactus, and yucca all grow up to be sculptural, impressive plants, but they grow very slowly and need to be purchased quite small, because they are stickery, difficult to handle while you're planting, and can be pretty pricey in larger sizes. The same thing with a xeriscape, it's going to take a while to establish the ground cover and the various plants.

Ordinarily, we would recommend only native plants for this project, as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is all about landscaping with plants native to North America. However, we have heard that yellow flowers seem to be the most appealing to prospective home buyers, and the only yellow flower we think you have a good chance of finding in bloom right now is the pansy. They are seriously hybridized natives of Europe that can be transplanted this time of year, in bloom, directly into the garden. The link we gave you is a picture of yellow pansies. They are low, but have good foliage and will grow and continue to bloom until well into the spring, hopefully after your house has already been sold.

When you have found the plants you think will fit your needs, get them into the ground as soon as possible. If you get them home in pots and a serious freeze is predicted, let them stay in the garage until the worst of the cold is over. Now, arrange your small shrubs attractively, and as though they are large flowering plants, and fill the space in the flower bed. With the pansies, or whatever other small flowering plant you might find at the nursery, in the front, you're ready for mulch. Mulch will protect the newly planted roots from the cold weather but, even more, it is attractive. Mulching bare earth with 3 or 4 inches of a good quality shredded bark or hardwood mulch will look good as people walk up to your house, often smells earthy and delicious, and presents the impression of a well-cared for property.


Cordia boissieri

Garrya ovata

Salvia greggii

Scutellaria wrightii

Leucophyllum frutescens




More Herbs/Forbs Questions

Moving "lily of the valley" from MD to TX. Is that OK?
January 17, 2012 - My question pertains to lily of the valley. From your database, I learned that it is a native plant but only the following states were listed: GA , KY , NC , PA , SC , TN , VA , WV. I am moving from...
view the full question and answer

Petunias pollinated by clematis from Logansport IN
July 11, 2012 - Can petunias be pollinated by clematis? I have 2 petunias that have split blooms and look like a small clematis flower. They are growing close to a jackamani clematis.
view the full question and answer

Project on natives in Connecticut from Chino CA
April 13, 2010 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, My 10 yr. old daughter is doing a project on Ct., and would like to know what the most common plants, trees and flowers are found in this state. A few of each would be a great ...
view the full question and answer

Care of Florida Blue or Lisiantus in Houston
October 24, 2005 - I'm in Houston, Texas and I'm growing, for the first time, Florida blues, Eustoma, purple. Since I am from California I'm not familiar with this plant. It's beautiful. How do I care for them i...
view the full question and answer

Overwintering Ruellia brittoniana in Missouri
October 03, 2015 - I live in Missouri and have five beautiful Mexican Petunia or Ruellia brittoniana planted and established in my landscaping. With winter fast approaching, I would love advise on how to winterize the p...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center